Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Lesson from Daniel Pink's Drive: Seek a Mastery Mindset for Your School

One of the most applicable lessons for educational leaders found in Daniel Pink's latest manuscript, Drive, centers on the difference between a performance mindset and a mastery mindset. The performance mindset and the mastery mindset are germane to discussions of students, teachers' expectations of their students, and teachers' own mindsets regarding teaching.

We'll look first at how these two mindsets affect students. Let's contrast the two in terms of the Spanish language. With a performance mindset, a student strives to make an A for the semester in Spanish while a mastery mindset is one in which a student strives to learn Spanish. With a performance mindset, a student may be satisfied by reaching objectives and checking boxes, i.e. making an A on a test or an A for the semester. I do not want to discount goals and objectives but they shouldn't be all that drives (no pun intended) us when learning and/or practicing something. With a mastery mindset, a student realizes that attempting to master Spanish will produce not only the desired A but also an understanding of the language, an outcome which far outweighs any A on a report card.

Let's look next at how the two mindsets play out in terms of teacher expectations for students. With a performance mindset, a teacher teaching poetry, for example, wants to see on an assessment that a student understands certain elements of iambic pentameter, haiku, sonnets, etc. Once an assessment confirms that a student has reached a particular level of achievement, the objective is checked off and the teacher and student move on to something else, perhaps expository writing. With a mastery mindset, on the other hand, both teacher and student develop a long-term relationship with poetry and seek a deeper understanding of poetry, a desire to continue delving into poetry long after expository writing, research papers and major American authors have been covered.

Finally, let's see how transformational (either positively or negatively) the two mindsets could be for teachers with regard to teaching. With a performance mindset, a teacher is motivated to push classes to average a certain score on an achievement test, AP exam, state or district assessment, etc. With a performance mindset, a teacher focuses on meeting the standards the school, district, or state, require for a demonstration of competency. A school full of teachers with this mindset will soon be shortsighted and focused on the wrong things (regardless of whose fault it is that the mindset either is fostered or is allowed to take hold). Who wants teachers seeking to meet teaching standards? Not me, and hopefully not you, either. With a mastery mindset, on the other hand, teachers are driven to push and challenge their students toward mastery. Additionally, with a mastery mindset, teachers challenge themselves to grow always in every aspect of teaching: technology integration, active teaching, content knowledge, creating assessments, etc.

Perhaps you have picked up on something Pink points out about mastery: mastery can never be achieved but the process of working toward mastery produces astounding, lasting results. Who can ever really master a language? No one, but the longer one works to master a language, the more proficient (or expert) the person becomes. Who can master poetry? Arguably no one, since no single poet is recognized as the greatest in all types of poetry. Who can master teaching? As there is always something more to learn and something upon which to improve, no one. However, imagine a teacher who truly seeks mastery of teaching. Imagine a school where students seek mastery rather than spending their time and energy grade-grubbing for points or shooting for test scores. Imagine a school where mastery is the expectation of all stakeholders for students and teachers. I would want my kids at that school, and I imagine Dan Pink would, too.

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